From metaphysics to mayoralty

Alumnus Neil Holdom reflects on his journey from a Philosophy and Political Science student at Victoria University of Wellington to becoming Mayor of New Plymouth.

Neil Holdom

How would you describe your student experience?

As a country boy, moving away from home at 17 years old to the bright lights of Wellington was life changing. I forged some incredible friendships, learned a lot, drank a lot, misbehaved a little, and generally had a fantastic time.

My time there ratcheted open my somewhat conservative mind and helped me start to appreciate the incredible diversity of thought and perspectives that exist across different cultures, constantly changing over time.

What was the most useful thing you learnt at Victoria University of Wellington?

It’s all on us. Victoria University of Wellington helped me understand how critical it is that we take responsibility for our own thoughts and actions. That life is not a spectator sport. That while we are all floating around in this river of thoughts, emotions, events, and circumstances we call the human experience, we can and do heavily influence the events in our lives and if we accept that we have the power to influence our lives and the lives of those around us we must also accept that we are responsible for what comes next.

What sorts of opportunities did studying at Victoria University of Wellington open up for you?

I went on to study journalism and spent several years in print media working across a diverse range of subjects and in writing, newspaper design, editing, and management. The networks and friendships I built at the University are enduring.

What have you been doing since graduating?

The ‘highlights package’ of the last 25 years includes meeting and marrying my wife Melissa, raising three incredibly strong-minded children Xavier (12), Savanna (10) and Alyssa (7), building a career in the energy sector and then accidentally becoming the Mayor of New Plymouth. It’s been a blast and it seems like only yesterday I was sitting in the AV section of the Victoria University of Wellington library watching A Clockwork Orange.

What do you love about your current role as Mayor?

I wake up in the morning and work for the benefit of more than 80,000 people who live in the district, more than 110,000 people who live in Taranaki and in a way that contributes to New Zealand Inc as well. I am part of a team that is developing and delivering long-term plans which will shape and influence the quality of life of New Zealanders yet to be born.

We are working to reflect the values and aspirations of our people in the community infrastructure and services we build, own, and operate on their behalf. We are working on delivering a step-change in environmental performance and asset management maturity.

In plain English that means less crap in our rivers, streams, and on the coast—clean water through high-quality pipes and less waste going to landfill. We are also building a Lifestyle Capital, a place where people of all ages can live, work, learn, and play.

What’s been a highlight of your career so far?

I was fortunate enough to sign the reconciliation agreement between the Crown, New Plymouth and South Taranaki District Councils, and the people of Parihaka on 9 June 2017, an incredibly powerful and humbling experience. The story of Parihaka is seared into the collective memories of tangata whenua in Taranaki and New Zealand.

The passive resistance demonstrated by the people of Parihaka in the face of extreme hostility is widely recognised as having influenced leaders throughout the world and it was an honour to be part of event designed to start the healing process and continue the conversation about peace, hope, and forgiveness.